My top 5 phones of 2023 – Sagar

Holidays are over, we have entered the new year, and the smartphone launch season has begun. But before we get out of our vacation mood and get into the groove of reviewing smartphones, we must talk about the phones that impressed us in 2023. My colleagues already talked about theirs, and now it’s my turn.

I’ve once again compiled the list of smartphones from the ones I got to use myself here in India, but this time, I included phones that I preferred carrying with me the most when traveling. In that sense, a more apt title for this post could have been “My top travel phones of 2023.” So, without further ado, these are my top 5 phones of 2023, in no particular order.

vivo X90 Pro

The vivo X90 Pro was unveiled in China in November 2022, but it only began its global rollout in 2023 and debuted late in India compared to previous X-series phones. One of the biggest highlights of the vivo X90 Pro was the 1″ type sensor used by the primary camera, which captured some of the best pictures I’ve taken. However, what also impressed me the most about the X90 Pro were the portraits it captured, which looked even more incredible with the ZEISS filters turned on. Those were a total hit amongst my personal and professional circles—especially the Cine-flare filter.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Sagar

However, there’s more to the vivo X90 Pro than just its cameras. It had a bright and color-accurate AMOLED panel, snappy performance, IP68 rating, good battery life with 120W charging, and a back panel with faux leather, which helped with the grip. All this made the vivo X90 Pro my designated travel smartphone since its launch in India because phones with these features are the ones I prefer to travel with.

The vivo X90 Pro was my designated travel smartphone of 2023.

The vivo X90 Pro’s cameras took lovely pictures. Its AMOLED panel was sufficiently bright for outdoor usage. The IP68 rating meant I didn’t have to worry about spills and splashes. 120W charging meant the phone was ready for action quickly. And the faux leather back panel provided an excellent grip that prevented it from slipping off the hands, which could happen when you rush through check-in and security check at the airport. It occurred to me a few times, at least.

Samsung Galaxy S23

I got to use the Samsung Galaxy S23 trio and the two new foldables the Korean conglomerate launched in 2023, but it’s the Galaxy S23 that I kept going back to for its compact size. It could’ve been my first choice for a travel smartphone if it wasn’t for the abysmal 25W charging that played spoilsport (S23 Ultra was unwieldy for me).

I wish to see more high-end compact smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 this year.

I was fine with a sub-4,000 mAh battery, but 25W charging on premium smartphones in 2023 is unacceptable. 65W continues to be the bare minimum for carrying a phone with me when traveling, regardless of how good its battery life is.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Sagar

Despite that, I made an exception for the Samsung Galaxy S23 for its compact size, which made it very easy to operate the phone and send texts with one hand. That, paired with a flagship chip, bright screen, IP68 rating, and an excellent camera setup, turned it into one of my favorite travel smartphones of 2023. It was also my go-to smartphone for browsing social media and reading long-form articles because of its compactness. I wish to see more high-end compact phones this year.

iQOO 12

When I first saw the iQOO 12 in pictures, I wasn’t very excited about it due to the flat frames since I don’t find smartphones with flat designs ergonomic enough, especially for prolonged usage. However, when I held the Legend Edition in hand for the first time, I found it more comfortable to hold than I initially thought, even though I’d have liked to see it flaunt a faux leather back since it helps me with the grip and prevents the phone from slipping.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Sagar

I like the iQOO 12 Legend Edition’s design with the BMW M Motorsport branding, and the phone felt premium to hold. The build is nice, too, and the IP64 rating is appreciated. But what I liked the most about it was the 64MP periscope telephoto unit. Now, all the rear cameras are capable, but the pictures taken at 3x zoom in Portrait Mode and 6x magnification in Telephoto Macro Mode are what I liked the most. So much so that I clicked more photos with the Telephoto Macro Mode than with the Photo Mode. It was an absolute fun to use.

The iQOO 12’s Telephoto Macro mode was quite fun and addictive.

The iQOO 12 proved to be capable enough in other departments as well. It has the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC at the helm, a nice AMOLED screen, great battery life, and 120W fast charging. All this made the iQOO 12 one of my favorites of 2023 and one of my preferred travel smartphones. It is a nice overall package.

vivo X100 Pro

I haven’t spent as much time with the vivo X100 Pro as I did with other phones on the list since I received it just ahead of Christmas, but for the duration I’ve had it, I clicked a lot of pictures with its 50MP periscope telephoto unit having 4.3x optical zoom. More than even the primary camera using a 1″ type sensor, which took impressive photos during daytime and in low-light.

The telephoto camera is used for taking pictures in Super Macro Mode at 4.3x and 8.6x magnifications and for clicking photos at 100mm focal length in Portrait Mode. The Super Macro Mode was fun to use for macro shots, but there were times I found myself using it for shots that otherwise wouldn’t qualify as macro shots. The reason being the pleasing bokeh it produced which I didn’t get with the Photo mode at the same magnification levels. That’s not to say the periscope unit didn’t impress with portrait shots and zooming in on objects from afar.

I particularly liked the portraits in 100mm mode, and the only other mode I preferred was 50mm. vivo’s decision to introduce the “Portrait lens package” with six options for the five different focal lengths is something those who don’t want to experiment with different focal lengths and ZEISS filters might appreciate since the package mentions which mode is suitable for what scenario. It’s a preset.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Sagar

The telephoto unit with 4.3x optical zoom also took good photos at 10x zoom, equivalent to 233mm, while 30x zoom (697mm equivalent) helped zoom in on faraway things. Like zooming in on the vehicles from the 100th floor of a skyscraper or from a mountain peak to another side of the city to see what’s going on. I actually did that, and while anything beyond 10x zoom might not be practical for use in terms of quality, it does get the job done by letting you see things closely and determine what’s on the other side. This turned the vivo X100 Pro into a pocket binocular for me.

The vivo X100 Pro’s periscope telephoto remains my favorite bit about it since it allowed me to experiment with different perspectives.

The vivo X100 Pro proved to be a pocket binocular for me with its zooming capabilities. It also looks set to replace the vivo X90 Pro as my designated travel smartphone for this year.

That said, there’s more to a smartphone than just a camera, and the X100 Pro checked the boxes for me in almost all departments. It’s got a powerful chipset, an excellent screen, 120W fast charging, and a nice build. My only gripe is that vivo went back to the finish we had on the X80 Pro, which makes the phone slippery. I’d prefer the X90 Pro’s faux leather panel over the X100 Pro’s back cover any day since the former helps with the grip without requiring an additional case, which adds to the weight. That’s why I said the X100 Pro checks the boxes for me in almost all departments.

Regardless, I see myself using the vivo X100 Pro as my primary smartphone when not reviewing other phones, and it looks set to replace the X90 Pro as my designated travel smartphone for this year.

Oppo Find N3 Flip

I’m not a fan of clamshell phones, and if I decide to buy a foldable, I will likely go for a horizontally folding smartphone like the Oppo Find N3 since I prefer that form factor over clamshells and the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5. Despite that, the Oppo Find N3 Flip made it to this list because its cover screen proved helpful in taking my pictures when there wasn’t anyone around to click them.

The cover display acted as a viewfinder, allowing for high-res, high-quality selfies with the primary camera since the hinge can keep it open at different angles. The triple camera setup on the rear also allowed for some experimentation with the perspective. Of course, you can always take a more economical route and get yourself a small tripod and continue using your existing smartphone for clicking your pictures when there’s no one around; it’s just that it might not be as compact as the Find N3 Flip and easily fit into your pants pocket.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Sagar

And for those wondering why I preferred the Oppo Find N3 Flip over the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5 since that would serve the same purpose, the reason is faster charging. The Find N3 Flip comes with a 4,300 mAh battery and 44W charging, while the Galaxy Z Flip5 packs a 3,700 mAh cell with an abysmal 25W charging.

The Oppo Find N3 Flip came in handy when no one was around to take my pictures – thanks to its cover display that acted as a viewfinder, allowing for high-res, high-quality selfies with the primary camera since the hinge can keep it open at different angles.

The Flip5 offers IPX8 protection over the Flip’s IPX4, of course, and also has a bigger cover display, but that wasn’t enough for me. The Oppo Find N3 Flip, with one of the fastest charging speeds and the best cameras amongst the clamshells, and a usable cover screen, proved to be a smartphone worthy of carrying around when traveling and thus found a place in this list.

And that’s pretty much it. Those are my top phones of 2023. Thanks for reading through! By now, it must be clear that superfast charging (and good battery life, of course), faux leather back panel (or ease of holding a phone), and periscope telephoto are some features that are the most important to me since I find them very useful when traveling. However, I make exceptions if the smartphone, as an overall package, is good enough or offers something unique.

If you, too, got a chance to use any of the smartphones mentioned above, let me know your experience in the comments section below and what alternative you would go for. Also, let me know what you look for in a smartphone when it comes to traveling.

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